Study Finds Praying Mantises Kill and Eat Small Birds

Posted on July 5, 2017

Praying mantis with captured Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

A new study has found that praying mantis species all across the globe will kill and eat birds. Praying mantises are carnivorous insects with powerful raptorial front legs. They generally feed on arthropods but have been seen eating small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, salamanders or snakes. Birds are also on the menu according to a new study conducted by zoologists Martin Nyffeler (University of Basel), Mike Maxwell (National University, La Jolla, California), and James Van Remsen (Louisiana State University).

The researchers found 147 documented cases of mantises capturing birds. Praying mantises from twelve species and nine genera have been observed preying on small birds in the wild. This feeding behavior was documented in 13 different countries and every continent except Antarctica. 24 different bird species are among the victims.

Nyffeler, lead author of the study, says in a statement, "The fact that eating of birds is so widespread in praying mantises, both taxonomically as well as geographically speaking, is a spectacular discovery."

70% of the documented cases are from the U.S. A typical location where a praying mantis is seen capturing and eating a bird is around hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds make up the vast majority of birds killed by mantises. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is a frequent victim. The researchers say that decades ago several alien species of large mantises were released in North America as an attempt to control pests. These imported mantis species are now a potential threat to hummingbirds and small passerine birds.

Nyffeller says, "Our study shows the threat mantises pose to some bird populations. Thus, great caution is advised when releasing mantises for pest control."

There are also videos on YouTube of mantises lurking around hummingbird feeders and attacking hummingbirds that confirms the research. The research paper was published here in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

Image: Courtesy from What's That Bug?, Randy Anderson
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